And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.
– John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961
Last week I wrote of the deconstruction of the civility, morality, and propriety of the American Character by the very leader of America who, above all others, should represent and demonstrate that character.
America has been turned inside out; we’ve been made to turn on our neighbors – and even turn on ourselves. Bullying, name-calling, insulting, threatening, and 3 a.m. tweet-abusing have become a newly tolerated and accepted communication norm.
Most folks I encounter all political sides are troubled by our new shallowness, meanness, and our lack of good will toward one-another. Heaven help us should this type of presidential bad behavior filter down to ourselves and worse – to our kids.
Respect, civility, honor, kindness, and simply doing our part are all the basics of our successful civil society. Without these fundamental characteristics, our nation will soon turn brutish with lives that for most are far less joyful, and likely far shorter.
Still, there’s tremendously good news behind our presidential bad news story. Indeed, you personally matter during this time more than at any moment before. You and I are change agents for good and we personally can make things better.
Today, more than ever before, we must do our duty to each other, to our communities, and to the nation as a whole. Unless you’re a member of some Wall Street swamp gang, don’t go asking what America is going to do for you. We’re on our own now, and it’s time for us to deliver on what we can do for our country. JFK’s message is new again, with a poignant new purpose.
I have a business friend, let’s call him Jay, who’s got an incredibly demanding and busy job. He runs a large sector of a large sector of a national development firm. And he’s gone through his challenges in the Great Recession and with health concerns, and Jay toughed it out and came out even stronger and more joyful than I’ve ever seen him before. Jay is making sure to be a big-time giver and not a taker.
Jay and I were talking the other day on the phone when he told me he couldn’t chat long as he had to leave for a Cub Scouts meeting. Turns out Jay is a Pack Leader for troop that has seven dens – and that’s a lot of active boys to teach, train, and help raise into honorable young men.
“I just love it,” exuberates Jay. “It matters so much in the lives of these young men to learn solid skills and solid values.”
I shared with Jay that when I was growing up without a father in our household I had a “Jay,” in my life, too. Mr. Johnson ran our pack and his wife was our den mom and we met at their ranch-style home on Chatsworth Street in Mission Hills.
They had a big lot with chickens and farm animals and outdoor climbing things and all kinds of fascinating country things not all of us young boys got to see.
And we learned those Cub Scout lessons and mastered those early skills, and we toughened ourselves up with hikes, and we learned the basics of civics and personal conduct, even at that early age.
Later, as I turned a teen, Mr. Johnson’s neighbor, Mr. Smith, became my Troop Leader of the famed Troop 104 in the North Valley. My first big backpack trip was to San Jacinto with that troop – an epic trip in itself – and over the years I learned and saw and experienced things I’d never have done without Mr. Smith and all the adult associates at Troop 104. These men stood up, kicked in, and gave of themselves selflessly for me and my neighbors.
The Scout Law has stayed with me, and as far as I’m concerned it should be standard operating procedure for all schools, groups, and families: “A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.
Doesn’t behavior like that that sound absolutely refreshing to ears compared to what we’re hearing out of Washington?
Now, picture living the Scout Law in our own adult, personal lives, right now, every day. On our walks, just passing folks. At the supermarket, standing in line. To our co-workers, or our direct superiors or reports. To our clients.
To the workmen who tend to our gardens or paint our homes. On how we run our finances. Or how we save for our financial security. For how we develop ourselves and our children. How we protect the weak or ill among us. How we present and keep our commitments, promises, marriages and covenants.
This much we can do right here, right now. And each of us can do it for ourselves, our families, our street, our neighborhood, our city.
We may be discouraged by what we hear daily out of Washington. But you and I do matter. And as we give of ourselves and follow personal conduct similar to the timeless Boy Scout Law, we will go a long, long way to restoring the civility and propriety back to our long-treasured civil American experience.
Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.